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Seven in 10 people who see a bailiff breaking the rules don't complain

More than 70% of people who witness a bailiff breaking the rules do not complain, according to a report released by Citizens Advice today.

The report, The Rules of Enforcement, also reveals that it has helped 41,000 people with 90,000 bailiff issues in the past 12 months, and the bailiff pages on its website were visited more than 140,000 times.

The Government introduced rules for bailiffs to follow back in 2014, but the report says that these have not worked because they have not been properly enforced. The charity is now calling for action to make sure regulations are met.

What does the report say?

Citizens Advice's analysis of YouGov polling shows that in the last two years, just 28% of people who experienced a bailiff breaking the rules made a complaint.

It also says that according to the Ministry of Justice's statistics, there have only been 56 complaints through the new court-based process since it was introduced in 2014.

The charity says that its research shows people do not complain because:

  • It is unclear how to make a complaint.
  • The pressure of bailiff enforcement action puts them off complaining.
  • There is a lack of faith in the process.

In light of its findings, it is calling on the Government to introduce a bailiff regulator and establish an independent complaints process.

What is a bailiff and what can they do?

Bailiffs are sometimes referred to as 'enforcement agents' and may visit your home if you don't pay your debts – such as outstanding council tax bills, parking fines, court fines and county court or family court judgments.

This can happen if you ignore letters saying that bailiffs will be used.

There are several rules that it's worth knowing if they do visit, such as:

  • They usually have to give seven days' notice of their first visit.
  • You don't have to let them in and they can't usually enter your home by force or by any entrance except a door.
  • They can't come between 9pm and 6am.
  • They can't come if only children under 16 or vulnerable people are present.
  • If you don't let a bailiff in or agree to pay them, they could take things from outside your home, such as your car.
  • If you do let a bailiff in but don't pay them, they may take some of your belongings from inside. They could sell the items to pay debts and cover their fees.
  • Bailiffs can take luxury items, for example a TV, but they can't take essentials such as your clothes.
  • They can't take work tools and equipment which together are worth less than £1,350 and they take can't someone else's belongings, such as your partner's computer – but to stop them, you'll have to prove these items aren't yours.

What should you do if a bailiff knocks on your door?

Before you let a bailiff in to take your things or pay them, ask to see proof of identity, check which company they're from, a telephone contact number and a breakdown of what you owe.

You can pay the bailiff on the doorstep – you don't have to let them into your home, but make sure you get a receipt to prove you've paid.

If you can't afford to pay in full, you can offer to pay in monthly or weekly instalments. They don't have to accept this, but it will show your intent to pay.

If the bailiff threatens or harasses you, or breaks into your house, you can complain about them.

You can complain about private bailiffs by contacting the company they work for or the trade organisation they are part of. If they are a court bailiff or civilian enforcement officer, you can complain using this form.

What does Citizens Advice say?

Citizens Advice chief executive Gillian Guy said: "Bailiffs are getting away with breaking rules designed to protect those who're struggling. The complaints process is complicated and frustrating. People lack faith in a system where you're required to complain to the bailiff's firm in the first instance.

"Bad practice by bailiffs is widespread and causes stress, anxiety and further financial harm. The Government has said it wants to end this for good and to do so, it must bring rule-breaking bailiffs into line by establishing an independent regulator.

"Alongside this, the Ministry of Justice should introduce an independent complaints process. It's important complaints are reviewed independently of the bailiff industry and outside the court system."

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